It is not hard to imagine what Boris Johnson would have made of the cash-for-curtains affair had he still been writing his newspaper column. He’d have fulminated in cod rage at the PM turning the Downing Street flat into a Balinese bordello, in gross violation of parliamentary standards of good taste. He’d likely have demanded “Carrie Antoinette” be punished by doing community service in the wallpaper department of John Lewis.

The story dominating newspapers all last week was more about lifestyle than real politics. An insight into the strange world inhabited by people who would spend a hundred grand on Lulu Lytle’s garish tat. They’re not like us. There were similar stories during Tony Blair’s reign – remember Carole Caplin’s conman boyfriend helping Cherie Blair buy flats in Bristol.

Which doesn’t mean it’s OK. The murky methods by which the redecoration was paid for is a matter of legitimate public interest. The affair sheds a dim light on Boris Johnson’s dignity, if not his integrity. But the whole point of this PM is that he had little dignity to begin with. Part of Boris’s appeal is that he’s a character out of PG Wodehouse: a bumbling toff who’s permanently overspent and constantly getting into scrapes. Such as not bothering to change his mobile phone number for 15 years, thus potentially allowing people like Vladimir Putin to eavesdrop on his private conversations.

We don’t need three parliamentary inquiries and the Electoral Commission to tell us what happened in “wallpapergate” as it’s inevitably been called. Boris has been in financial straits, largely because of the many children he’s been supporting, in and out of wedlock, not to mention his ex-wife, Marina. This was manageable when he was earning £250,000 a year from The Daily Telegraph and as much again for speaking engagements. But when he was reduced to the PM’s salary of a mere £150,000 the sums just didn’t add up.

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When he entered Downing Street he had to provide a suitable nest for his well-heeled fiance, Carrie Symonds, and probably left the redecoration to her as he had other things on his mind, like the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. What he probably didn’t expect was wallpaper at £840 a roll, sofas costing more than a family car car, and costly nicknacks including an Owl lampshade at £11,000. We’ve all been there – or rather we haven’t. Personally I’m more Ikea than Lulu Lytle.

Downing Street has a maintenance allowance of £30,000 which didn’t come near the £88,000 cost of Carrie’s palace. One can picture Boris desperately scrabbling around for some other way of paying it. After all, he doesn’t own the flat and can’t take the bloody wallpaper with him. Why shouldn’t the state pay for its upkeep? Nicola Sturgeon’s official residence, Bute House, has been restored recently for a reported £1 million, all told. That’s owned by the National Trust. So what about setting up some kind of trust to pay for Downing Street?

The Cabinet Office decided this wasn’t on, so Tory Central Office was enlisted. The Tory chairman, Ben Elliot, agreed to help and set up a blind trust under Lord Brownlow, a very rich man. Johnson probably thought the matter was sorted. It wasn’t. As in all situation comedies, the tale just got more convoluted.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s then senior adviser, warned him that using political donations for this purpose was “unethical, foolish and probably illegal”. He’d seen first hand how the use of donations had caused problems when he ran Vote Leave. Boris probably brushed this warning off, thinking that his consiglieri was just trying to get at Carrie Symonds.

There had been a culture war developing in Number 10 after Cummings’s staff had started calling the PM’s bidie-in “Princess Nut Nut”, ridiculing her posh environmentalism.

Eventually, after a farcical game of pass the parcel involving the Cabinet Secretary, Conservative Central Office and others, the bill landed back on Boris’s desk. It’s almost certainly not in the rules for party donations to be used in this way, so he belatedly paid for the redecorations himself. It’s not clear how, or when, but it did come from his own pocket.

It was a reckless, extravagant way to behave – especially for a PM trying to appeal to working-class voters in the red wall. But we have a Prime Minister who is reckless and notoriously disorganised about financial matters. No-one voted for him because they thought he was an accountant. This story would only have done real, lasting damage had it been Johnson’s own house, or if public money had been used to decorate it.

Indeed, it may even have rebounded on Labour. Keir Starmer was criticised for staging a photo op in John Lewis holding rolls of wallpaper. Why was the Labour leader giving free publicity to a private company?

Was he saying that working-class voters care more more about who pays for Downing Street wallpaper than about Brexit, which Johnson delivered, or about the vaccine roll out?

As I watched the flat saga dominate BBC news day after day, I began to wonder if Johnson’s refusal to fully explain it might have been deliberate. Could this have been a “dead cat” diversionary tactic? After all, when Labour and the press were talking about wallpaper, what were they not talking about?

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They weren’t talking about the disaster of Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol for a start, which has led to renewed sectarian violence in the province. Nor were they talking about David Cameron’s lobbying the Chancellor on behalf of Greensill Capital. That story had genuine echoes of “Tory sleaze” from the 1990s.

Boris Johnson probably prefers answering questions about his décor than his dithering over lockdown last autumn. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had said he would refuse to crash the economy again even if that meant “bodies pile high in their thousands”. It’s the kind of thing he would say in the heat of the moment.

And, language aside, there’s a real question about whether his delayed lockdown did indeed cause unnecessary deaths.

However, I don’t think this Prime Minister is capable of subtle news management. He is not disciplined enough to control any diversionary narrative for long, especially now that he lacks the guidance of Cummings, whom he sacked in November.

The Dom poses a greater threat to Boris Johnson than a whole warehouse of wall hangings. He’s openly furious that Number 10 accused him of being the “chatty rat” who leaked details of the “bodies” remark.

He will appear before a parliamentary committee later this month and knows where all the bodies are buried, if you’ll excuse a tasteless pun. He has been withering about the Government’s mistakes last year. Cummings refutes the claim by The Sunday Times, and other newspapers, that he supported a hair shirt approach to the pandemic and was prepared to “let pensioners die” in pursuit of “herd immunity”.

In reality, he was a lockdown hawk who wanted to close down the economy much earlier than the PM did. Number 10 expects the worst. His evidence may prove to be much harder to paper over than the walls.